20 Jun 2018 – 11:37
By Rizwan Rehmat | The Peninsula
DOHA: Pakistan will be looking to boost its thriving bilateral relations with Qatar by aligning trade aspirations between the two countries at a bigger scale, outgoing envoy Shahzad Ahmad has said.
Ahmad, who is set to be replaced by new Ambassador Sohail Aman next month, said Pakistan relishes its trade and diplomatic relations with Qatar.
“It is very important for Pakistan to work with Qatar, a very friendly and brotherly state. We have a lot in common. Despite a lot of things happening in the region, we want to support Qatar and we have supported them throughout this period, especially in the last year,” Ahmad said.
“Our exports to Qatar have increased 63 percent. Our cooperation on many others fields – diplomatic, military, commercial and aviation – has been very good. We want to continue that,” Ahmad, a former banker himself, pointed out. “Our key initiatives in the last year included opening of the shipping lines, bringing business delegations here and increasing exports to Qatar,” he added.
The outgoing envoy was addressing a group of English and Arabic media representatives over a farewell lunch hosted at Hassan Kolcuoglu Restaurant, The Pearl by officials of the embassy of Pakistan in Doha. Murad Baseer, Deputy Head of Mission; Rizwan Manzoor, Counsellor Press; and Mustafa Kamal Burki, Counsellor (Regional Affairs) were also present.
“We want to maintain and build on those bilateral relations because they are important to us more than anything else. There is a lot of work to do. What we have done in the last four and a half years is really just the start,” Ahmad said while recapping his tenure as ambassador in Qatar.
“Since I have come here, the air connectivity has increased. If I go back and think what our ambition was for Qatar, we wanted to focus on connectivity. There’s more airline traffic, more commercial traffic and more shipping traffic. Today, we have nine flights from Qatar. From Pakistan, PIA is increasing its flight numbers from what it was earlier on. We are just about to introduce our second route to Islamabad. We already have the Peshawar route covered.”
“On the shipping front, we have three dispatches a week. That’s very important in terms of deepening the relationships. We have substance in our relationship. We have increased our energy collaboration with Qatar. We are not only buying gas from them but now Qatar is exploring opportunities to build LNG terminals in Pakistan,” the envoy said.
Pakistan’s outgoing envoy Shahzad Ahmad (right) and Murad Baseer, Deputy Head of Mission, at the farewell.
“For me this is a very special place. While we made a lot of progress on the diplomatic front but on the other front, we have built deeper relationships. We have reached out to Qataris who are our brothers and sisters here, to the wider community, to the military and they have reached out back to us. Because we knew the positive feeling was always there for us but we had to reengage with meaning and substance and we have done that,” Ahmad said.
“When we talk about substance (in the relationship) we essentially talk about more trade. Our trade is straight a billion dollars. That’s fivefold increase from around $200m a few years ago. That’s a very big increase. There is better military cooperation. There is positive news on the labour force front. When I came here, there were about 90,000 Pakistanis here. Today there are 145,000 plus Pakistanis here. That’s a big increase,” he said.
“When I came here, there were four flights a day to Pakistan. Today there 11 flights a day. Our ambition is not to stay at $1bn. It’s two, three of four billion (dollars of) bilateral trade. It’s not just us importing energy but us selling food, building materials, higher value added products and engaging each other for joint ventures,” Ahmad said.
“When the new ambassador comes in, this will continue because he is a man of great stature and experience. He is going to take all this much further,” he said.
Ahmad, who holds an MPhil in Economics from the University of Cambridge and a BA from the University of Sussex, picked Qatar for special praise following the illegal blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt in June 2017.
“Development in Qatar have been very positive. After a year, we have seen Qatar has become much stronger state by itself,” Ahmad explained.
“Of course there is the loss of the social fabric of the GCC and that is sad for all of us but as a state, it is doing much better today. It has found new shipping routes. It has established new routes for raw materials for food. It has become self-sufficient in many ways.” “They flew in the cows and we said ‘wow’. Today we have Baladna (Qatar’s own milk brand), the milk is very good. We are enjoying fresh milk. They have done very good. We wish them well. Self-sufficiency is very good for any state. Even in Pakistan, we want greater self-reliance. We don’t want to be importing things. We’d rather produce them. This event has just accelerated the development in Qatar. They have the 2030 Vision but it just came forward. So that’s a great thing for them,” he concluded.